Saturday, February 20, 2010

What Does It Mean? Day 1

A power flower in my garden.

Here’s my new blog project: I want to discuss the interpretation of a random series of famous quotations. How does a particular quote apply to my life? To yours?
Each day I’ll pick a new quote and ponder its relevancy. You’ll chime in if you feel prompted to add anything.

“Absolute power corrupts absolutely.”

This quote came to me at about 6 a.m. on an ordinary Friday, surrounded by the predawn darkness. It was just a random thought that flitted through my head as I drank my morning coffee.

It originated in 1887 in a letter written to a Catholic bishop by Lord Acton, a British historian and moralist.

I admit that I study government like I study quantum mechanics: a tiny bit. Philosophically, I’m a mutt: Libertarian, Republican, Democratic, Peace and Freedom… As I’ve gotten older I’ve developed an aversion to talking about politics.

But I have no aversion to sharing my opinions on corporate America.

Last summer, the corporations that govern my credit cards started sending me letters to tell me they were raising my interest rates. Since I had specifically chosen those credit cards over other credit cards because of their lower interest rates, I was curious why they were doing this to me.

In the fine print of the notifications, they all stated, “If you do not agree to this, you may opt out. Call XYZ.” So I called to protest, “opt out,” and insist that my interest remain the same.

Well, explained the disinterested customer-service reps, I was certainly allowed to refuse the interest-rate hike, but if I did, I must cancel the card. They made this sound like it was a choice.

To my way of seeing things, if you say to me, either pay up or I’m taking away your credit card, that is called extortion.

I asked to speak to the managers on duty. I was given the same “choice.” When asked why the rates were being raised, I was given a song and dance about rising costs and interest rates. When I pointed out that interest rates were at a historic low, I was stonewalled with the phantom “rising costs and interest rates.” When they discovered that I always pay off my balance, they all said triumphantly, “Then you don’t have to worry about it.”

The fact is, “absolute power corrupts absolutely.”

Congress passed a credit-card-reform law last May, but didn’t make it effective until this month. So credit-card issuers had carte blanche for seven months to raise all their fees and rates in anticipation of a law that now limits their ability to do so.

So what did they do? In the quest for higher revenues, they stuck it to us. They quickly exercised their absolute power to do as they wished, before the government could curtail it.

I call that corruption.

Corrupt: immoral or dishonest, especially as shown by the exploitation of a position of power or trust for personal gain.

What do you know about absolute power and corruption?


the walking man said...

The quest for more and more money is the quest for power. It is if they don't realize that sitting on a large number means nothing in the real world. It is the goods and services that is traded for money that has value. If you remove your self from their rolls they have less on their balance sheet.

The whole *shrug* attitude of the customer service rep would have been enough for me to simply cancel. They hate that because you are their currency when looking for credit.

Fools never understand that power, true power has nothing to do with gold or anything else physical. It all rots and rusts...corrupts.

Anonymous said...

Whenever someone has absolute power like that it never seems to be a good person.


Kim A. said...

This is a great idea! brain is having to work and it is early here. I think this quote means that, as humans, partial corruption isn't possible. It is like lying. To cover a lie, one must lie more. To get away with corruption, one must continue the corruption. That's all my brain has today.


Brian Miller said...

power, when not tempered with humility, goes to the head...then it infects the heart...

Karen said...

I used to use this quote often, when I was teaching literature, as it applies to many, many plot elements. Nowadays, I apply it to governments, large and small. I have a friend, for example, who ran for a public office with the promise that he was a one-term candidate who was running for all the right reasons. During his term, both his children got jobs with the public organization and now he's running for a second term. A small example, but nonetheless...

Tall Kay said...

What a fun project. Don't even get me started on the injustice of credit cards...I could on for days!

I find the same injustice in the price of gasoline. How can gas be twenty-five cents cheaper only two miles up the road, when the same truck delivered to both stations?

They know we need them, so their power gives them rights beyond explanation. I drive the extra 2 miles and opt out on the cards. Makes me feel like I have some matter how small.

Maha said...

That's a great idea to begin with.
I found nothing in my life that fits it, but I'll read the quotes you are going to post and hopefully, I'll have my own experience to share.

Mama Zen said...

That's an excellent example. I would add insurance companies.

Anonymous said...

I grew up in fundamentalist christian commune. I could offer a couple of opinions on absolute power and corruption...

We make gods into demons when we stop asking questions; when we surrender our minds to the corporate collective and relinquish our choices.

Marla said...

What do I know about absolute power and corruption?

I know I want no part of either. Credit cards are no longer welcome in my life. I want a simple life that no corrupt entity (Credit Card Co) is welcome to be a part of.

Can you imagine the power people would have if they just stopped using credit cards altogether? It's time to take back control of our lives. got me going with this one. :-)

Syd said...

I think of many dictators who have had absolute power. The worst of the absolute power dictators has to be Hitler, an evil man if every there was one.

RNSANE said...

All I can say, and remain a lady, is that I am agreemeent with you!

Dianne said...

We have many ideas here about powerful positions of corruption.

The other definition included is that of a position of trust, as in a close personal relationship.

Giving anyone, loved or trusted or not absolute power over your life is also corrupting. Even if it's called "love" (just a post Valentines Day thought)

good idea, Dear One!

Mrsupole said...

Actually Chairman Mao killed more people then Hitler. But he has admirers and so it is kept quiet.

Sometimes even a small amount of power corrupts, hence the customer service reps were probably feeling powerful to be able to tell you that you are pretty much screwed if you keep the credit cards. Believe it or not, by keeping the cards, you are agreeing to give them power over you. It is true that if everyone would get rid of them, then they would have no choice but to lower the interest rates. I vote for you to go shop around after the new rates take effect and then shred up the old credit cards and mail them in with your last payment, and let them know why you are canceling with them.

Look at what happened when people stopped using so much gasoline, and companies were forced to lower the price. But am I the only one who sees that they are slowly creeping the price up to where we once rebelled. This is truly an example of the evolution of raising the price of any product so as to make it acceptable.

"Absolute power corrupts absolutely." applies to the evil that is done amongst the meek and the helpless. Rapists and pedeophilles are probably the most evil people out there, mostly because they do it over and over again. And rape is not always just a sexual thing. Rape can apply to so much evil that is done daily out there in the world.

Evil is as evil does, and when good people stand by and watch it happen, then are they evil too?

And if we fight power and then become the powerful, are we then also corrupted?

There are so many people who think they are doing the "right" thing, and then they become the problem by doing the "wrong" thing.

Okay, I guess I better stop or you will just be able to make a post out of my comment, which is probably what I should start doing. Sigh!!

God bless.

Scott said...

I think we've all recently been given a glimpse into what can happen to (in my opinion) a good person when they are put in a situation of "absolute power" and given access to seemingly endless temptations.

Look at the situation with Tiger Woods. He seems to have been corrupted "absolutely" as a result of his fame and fortune.